NewsHealthSmallpox monkeys, virologist warns: "Investigating animals, perhaps local reservoirs"

Smallpox monkeys, virologist warns: “Investigating animals, perhaps local reservoirs”

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Not just “very close interpersonal contacts between people”. At the origin of the growing number of cases of monkeypox that is alarming the international health authorities “there could also be another possibility: that there is an infection in some animals that are no longer only African, but also ‘local’, for example a rodent “. A hypothesis that “at the moment can only be ventured”, but which appears realistic to the virologist Pasquale Ferrante, professor at the Temple University of Philadelphia in the USA, medical and scientific director of the Città Studi clinical institute in Milan. In an interview with Adnkronos Salute, the expert invites us to “investigate”, with the involvement “of veterinary colleagues, as well as virologists who are experts in human viruses”. “It is certainly a trail to follow”, Ferrante warns in the aftermath of the alarm launched yesterday by the ECDC, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control: “If human-to-animal transmission occurs, and the Monkeypox spreads to an animal population, there is a risk that the disease could become endemic in Europe, “experts warned yesterday in a ‘monkeypox’ risk assessment. Could it have already happened that ‘our’ animal has been infected and has become a reservoir? “If it happened, I don’t know”, replies the specialist who, however, believes the EU warning to be correct. “I know for sure, in fact, that we have a previous episode”. “In 2003 – remembers Ferrante – in the United States 47 cases of monkeypox were observed among humans, both confirmed and suspected, and at the time it happened that in some areas of the USA rodents had been imported directly from Africa, subsequently entered in close contact with local rodents. The monkeypox thus came to the so-called prairie dog, a large mouse that lives in the desert and semi-desert areas of the south, southwest of the States, and passed to men “. Also in the light of this precedent, “it would be appropriate to begin collecting elements – urges the virologist – and to verify the possible involvement of local rodents. The ECDC’s concern is great – Ferrante specifies – because we have many animals that are potentially susceptible to smallpox. monkeys, even dogs. It may be something to be taken into account, but it must be studied by making the appropriate investigations. “SEXUAL TRANSMISSION -” No to stigma “towards social groups or sexual habits. If there is “a fixed point” from which to start in analyzing the cases of monkeypox that are increasing in an increasing number of countries, it is this according to Ferrante. “Sexual intercourse favors the transmission of many agents, even unknown ones. to be sexually transmitted – explains the expert – because clearly, if a person has an infection in progress, especially with the virus in the blood, there can be transmission in the mucous membranes. In this case, however – he specifies – it is quite evident that the main source of infection are the infamous ‘droplets’, the droplets of saliva, also quite full-bodied, that we emit in aerosol format while we speak, when we sneeze or cough, while we kiss. So it may also be “, Ferrante points out,” that it is a coincidence without particular significance that of having observed the cases of ‘monkeypox’ in these groups of people “, mainly males having sex with males. “In other words – says the specialist – I do not believe that sexual transmission is the predominant cause. Here, even if it is all to be investigated and for now it is a matter of hypotheses – he points out – in my opinion we are faced with a zoonosis that has started from animals that became infected, perhaps pets, and then spread for reasons of closeness and close contact between people. Beyond sexual intercourse, even talking, living together, can be a factor of transmission. No to stigma “, reiterates the virologist. IS THE VIRUS MUTED? – “Anomalous cases”: this is how the World Health Organization defined the monkeypox infections that are increasing in several countries. But can the virus be mutated as some believe possible, perhaps by assuming a greater human-human transmission capacity? Ferrante considers it unlikely. “Before assuming changes in the genome of the virus and its surface molecules, I would say that we have to wait, and a lot”, warns the expert. And in fact, according to the first analyzes conducted by the Inmi Spallanzani of Rome on the viral sequences of Italian patients, the viruses are “all results similar to the West African strain”. The main reason why caution is needed, explains Ferrante, is the fact that “the ‘monkeypox’ virus, as well as that of human smallpox, is a double-stranded DNA virus, among other things very large in size”, he explains. the specialist, recalling that “at the time of smallpox the virus could almost be observed under an optical microscope, however large the particle was”. This characteristic “also means something from a biological point of view: it means stability. Being a double helix DNA virus, moreover of considerable size – insists Ferrante – that of monkeypox, as well as herpesviruses including chickenpox, is one of those viruses that do not easily undergo mutations, but which have actually proved absolutely stable so far. Unlike coronaviruses such as the Sars-CoV-2 of Covid-19, RNA viruses prone to mutation “due to absence of ‘proofreaders’, ie the mechanisms that during replication limit the risk of random errors from which the variants originate.

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